Thursday, October 21, 2010

Reel To Reel: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Greed is still good unless you're holding a mortgage.

Going Rate: Worth matinee price.
Starring: Michael Douglas, Shia LaBeouf, Josh Brolin
Rated: PG-13
Red Flags: Mild Language

(I'm a little late to the screen on this one. I'm catching up on some movies that have been on my list but unworkable into my schedule until now.)

I recently heard Rush Limbaugh railing about the Obama Adminstration's "assault on free market capitalism." You could argue the takeover of General Motors was a huge broadside, along with forcing people to buy their own health insurance, among other things. You can argue for or against the government's course, but you can't deny this: there wouldn't be an assault on free markets if they hadn't assaulted us first. I'm talking about allowing people who had no business owning a home to take out mortgages. Then financial gurus inconceivably package those loans into investments. Now we're all paying for it, and I can't understand the lunacy that got us here.

Gordon Gekko can't, either. Michael Douglas returns to his Oscar-winning role a little grayer and poorer but not bereft of insider market knowledge. After getting out of prison for high financial crimes and misdemeanors, he is pedaling a book, "Is Greed Good?" I dunno, Mr. Gekko, is it? As he works the lecture and autograph circuit, he finds his estranged daughter being courted by up-and-coming investment banker Jake Moore (LeBeouf). Moore has a fixation on cold fusion as the next big score, and he's relentless at digging up millions to fund research. Winnie Gekko (Carey Mulligan) wants nothing to do with her father, whom she blames for a family meltdown while he was locked up. She's writing for a Huffington Post-like blog, as if she were doing penance for Dad's sins.

Moore is working for a firm that's running out of cash and time. Rumors are hitting it hard, leading to a disaster that jumps from the business section to the front page. As he tries to build a relationship with his future father-in-law, Moore turns to Gordon Gekko to sleuth out what's really going on. We don't see Gekko exerting any serious effort, but he doesn't have to. He's Gordon Gekko, fercryinoutloud. It doesn't take long for him to find an icy corporate kingpin, Bretton James (Brolin), is at the heart of the problem and up to some very dirty dealings, if only somebody could unmask him. At the same time, we sense G.G. wants to get back in the game.

That would be enough to power this sequel, but director Oliver Stone and company throw in the financial meltdown as a principal character, as if we all need to be reminded that the economy is stinking right now. He runs wild with CGI illustrations of plunging markets against cityscapes and tangled streams of stock tickers to pick up film's meandering pace. The original Wall Street moved at the speed of an action picture, even in its soliloquies on money. Some of those lines ("Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.") are classics. I don't see anything like it here.

Yet if you're a fan of the old Gordon Gekko, complete with that brick cell phone, hang in there. You will not have forked over your $9.25 in vain. The film that begat this one was a parable about money and power, but this one is more of a financial procedural, a money mystery with romantic and familial sidebars. The original Wall Street loved money; its offspring makes us choose between love and money.

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